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Winterreise (Winter Journey)

May 20, 2012

24It is with great sadness that I read today of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s passing on Friday.   Like many of us, I grew up with Fischer-Dieskau’s interpretations of Schubert’s Winterreise. and I think of Fischer-Dieskau’s understated but perfectly controlled singing as the standard for male vocal excellence.  For me, Fischer-Dieskau defined German song. 

Winterreise is so demanding on the singer and listener – its lyrics apparently vapid and empty, but its song technically, emotionally, and melodically difficult.  The escape in the night of the jilted lover, and his despair, longing for death, and ultimate reconciliation to loneliness are among the most affecting music ever scored.  The underlying story of its composition is also filled with tragedy:   Schubert’s suffering from late stages of syphilis (to what would lead to his death at age 31 the next year.)  The problem for most singers is that they play the song too emotionally – creating an unrealistic effect (and in particular, one unfit for the utter nullity of the underlying songs).  Fischer-Dieskau’s recitals were neither too emotional or too cold – rather he seemed to be able to completely transcend himself and become one with the complete and utter bleakness in his recitals.

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